Thursday, September 02, 2010

Summer homework

In my part of Japan, the summer vacation for children runs from the last week of July to August 31. About 5 weeks. Because I went off to California, my summer vacation was about 7 weeks and I am happy to say that I enjoyed all of it. (Tetsu had none.)

Even though Japanese children get a month's worth of vacation that doesn't mean they are home free to do anything they want. Since the school year runs from April to March, the teachers assign summer homework to their classes.

It's been a long time so I don't know if I remember this right but as I recall my kids brought home workbooks with pages of drills to do. They had calligraphy homework and book reports. There was an art project of making a poster to encourage civic awareness and they also were assigned an independent research project.

I always took my kids out of school about a week before summer vacation began mostly because I was trying to avoid paying the exorbitant airline prices. The school never gave me a hard time with this though maybe I just didn't hear about the raised eyebrows.

"The Watanabe parents think it is important that their kids spend as much time as possible in America during the summer (and they don't have a lot of money!) so Takumi and Leiya will be absent the week before summer vacation actually begins."

One problem with this was that often the drill books wouldn't be available for my kids to take along with them. The teachers assured me it wasn't important for them to complete (then why assign them?!) and that the answers were all in the back anyway. I think they did the art projects but maybe not the book reports.

"The homework doesn't matter. Have a good time in America."

I wasn't completely unconcerned about my children's education and each year I would make sure the kids did their independent research project on something connected with America.

One year Takumi researched the then new non-smoking trend in America. That was an excellent research project. He interviewed smokers and non-smokers, got facts on damages to health, took pictures of No-Smoking signs.

Another year one of the kids did their project on American houses and again interviewed my friends about which rooms in their house they liked best, drew floor plans of the various houses they visited and wrote about the differences between Japanese houses and California houses.

There was one year when one child just focused on cultural differences. How American's kiss all the time. How they praise each other about the smallest things. How clerks and waiters in the supermarket, the post office, the restaurants are all friendly and talk a lot.

There was a year when they researched money, a year when they researched volunteering, a year when they researched rocks and California terrain.

All in all I think Takumi and Leiya got very good training for researching and writing reports. I also remember a lot of struggles to get them to sit down and write out index cards, take pictures and write out their thoughts when summer was supposed to be FUN and meany mom was making them study!

Yesterday, on crosswalk duty I noticed all the neighborhood kids loaded down with homework projects to take to the new semester of school. I thought, "Ah, those were the good ol' days!"

I had homework this summer too! Can you believe as part of my crosswalk guard work I was required to wander around the neighborhood for 30 minutes looking for children to caution every day during the summer!? Let me tell you. In this summer's heat there were NO children! And everyday I wrote in my traffic log about how my job had gone that day. There are not a lot of different ways to say "No children around. Everything is the same as always. It is hot."

I'm sending in my "homework" papers today. The new semester has started.

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